Your sin is not unique

“Other than the fact we are all made by God in His image, sin is the single most common unifying factor of our human experience.”

I had the opportunity to discuss the concept of confessing sin with a few different folks on various occasions recently, and I noticed a common theme – a reluctance to admit to committing certain sins. When the people I was speaking with finally beat around the bush, hinted at, alluded to and found the most indirect way to confess something, the eventual revelation was, well, not at all shocking. One person admitted they sometimes get impatient with, and raise their voice at, their children. If you’re a parent – and human – chances are you have done this more than once. Now, I am in no way justifying yelling at kids or trying to diminish the sins of impatience and anger; but I am saying that there’s hardly a parent on this Earth who could even pretend to be shocked if someone confesses that to them.

Here’s the reality: unless you’ve committed some criminal act, chances are the sins you are ashamed to confess are not any different than the ones we all struggle with and can/should understand and not be judgmental. Anger? Yep. Me too. Pride? Sadly, most of the time. Gossip? Sorry to say, yes. Lust? Lack of self control? Envy? Unkindness? Yes, certainly, at times. You get the point, I’m sure. Other than the fact we are all made by God in His image, sin is the single most common unifying factor of our human experience. If you struggle with vanity, pride, lust, anger and just about any other sin to one degree or another, welcome to the club.

We’re all sinners, and not one of us is in a position to lord our self-perceived perfection or righteousness over someone else. Until Jesus returns and sin and death are finally destroyed forever, sin is going to be a constant reminder of the reality that we’re under a curse and in need of a Savior. As such, we should mourn the sin in our lives and seek to kill it through the Holy’s Spirit’s power, as well as encourage the same in the lives of others. We should be willing to confess our sins “one to another” (James 5:16) as well as be the kind of person who can respond with Gospel truth that results in encouragement and holiness.

Your sin is not unique. King Solomon said “there’s nothing new under the sun,” and so it is with sin. You only have to read the first few chapters of Genesis to see the first human sin, and then the pride, murder, lies, deceit, sexual perversion and immorality, rape and more that quickly followed and has plagued us ever since. The bottom line is this: 1 John 1:8-9 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (emphasis mine). We are all guilty of sin, and we all need the forgiveness offered to us by and through Jesus Christ. In that sense, we are all alike and equally in need of grace and mercy.

Let us examine ourselves and confess to God, and, as appropriate and necessary, to one another. Don’t live in quiet isolation and fear, or even pride, thinking your sin is special and no one else deals with the same thing. Rather, let us be honest, vulnerable and authentic with one another. If we do that, I think we will find the truth and power of the Gospel will begin to unify us even more than our sin.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

How to find the right church

By David A. Liapis

If you do a Google search for “how to find the right church?” you might be surprised (and overwhelmed) by what you see at the top of the results page: “About 8,280,000,000 results (0.75 seconds).” Eight BILLION hits!?! Where do you even start?

A good place to start when looking for the right church is definitely the Bible. Close your browser, open you Bible and read the New Testament (minus the Gospels, for now). It’ll take about seven to eight hours, but you can do it. Knock it out one book a day for a couple weeks. Some books take less time to read than watching a YouTube ad. See for yourself either again or for the first time what Luke, Paul, Peter, John and others have to say about church. You may or may not be surprised to find that many of the same issues they were having then (especially in Corinth) are many of the issues we’re having now. That means a couple things. First is that Solomon was not inaccurate when he said in Ecclesiastes there’s nothing new under the sun. The second thing, and what’s most relevant right now, is that what God’s Word says about the church then is relevant, applicable and authoritative today.

Now that we’ve established the fact the Bible is the primary, relevant source for anything related to church, let me explain why I think I’m even in a position to try to offer suggestions for how to find a church.

First of all, I am not a pastor. I am not paid by, or belong to, any church, denomination or any other religious entity. I don’t consider myself Baptist, Presbyterian or any other flavor of Christian. I am not trying to steer you toward any particular denomination – or non-denomination. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that even within the denominational boxes, you can find pastors and churches who are outside the box. Every church should be assessed on its own merit; although, I will say as far as denominations that you are judged by the company you keep. In other words, if you’re looking to avoid Calvinism you might want to skip over the Sovereign Grace or reformed church in your area, or if you want to avoid infant baptism, you want to not visit the Presbyterian or Catholic church. Denominational affiliations can be helpful in general, but there are variants that make deeper inspection worthwhile if you’re having trouble finding something you’re familiar with.

Secondly, my family and I have had the relatively unique experience of “church hunting” every two to three years now for almost two decades as a military family. We have lived in eight states and two countries and visited far more cities than that for weeks or months at a time, and in each of them we sought to find a church. There are plenty of articles and books about why attending church is so important, so I will not address that here. Suffice it to say that as a family we value being a part of the visible body of Christ no matter where we are and no matter how long or short we will be there. We have attended churches from one week to four years that ranged from Baptist to Grace Brethren to Presbyterian to non-denominational to military chapels that met in beautiful stained-glass-windowed churches to elementary school gymnasiums to repurposed industrial buildings to massive contemporary church facilities. We have sat under great preachers and terrible preachers. We have sung old-time hymns with an organ accompaniment to modern praise songs with ear-drum splitting electric guitars and drums. We’ve taken communion from a communal wine chalice and large loaf of bread to individually sealed, gluten-free “crackers” and “juice.” Needless to say, our experiences have been many and varied, good and bad, and all educational.

What I am about to say is based on these experiences as well as, and primarily, the Bible. These are my opinions and recommendations, not Scripture. In other words, I’m biased, both consciously and unconsciously, and fallible. Take it for what it’s worth and nothing more.

How to choose church

As Evangelical Christians who are not beholden to a particular denomination, it’s not as simple as attending the closest (or only) Calvary Chapel or Catholic church or Latter Day Saints ward when my family travels or moves. We have to do our research and shop around to find a place where we’re both confident in the integrity of the teaching and comfortable in an environment where we can thrive and serve. We’ve learned over the years that while there are a lot of factors that go into selecting a church from the quality of the teaching and music to the mid-week week gatherings to proximity to the atmosphere of the whole thing (and for those with kids, the nursery and children’s ministries), there are certain elements that are more important than others.

The Bible is very clear about certain elements that comprise a proper church gathering – the faithful teaching of the Scriptures by a male pastor/elder, prayer and singing. There are certainly other Biblical elements such as the sacraments of communion and baptism as well as the giving of offering and the exercising of spiritual gifts that can also be part of the weekly gathering, but the New Testament is not explicit on when or how often those should happen. So, the first question is whether or not a church is including the prescribed elements into an orderly and God-honoring service.

The reason why additional questions must be asked and why choosing a church is so hard is because there’s some wiggle room for how God’s people decide to conduct a service (or liturgy, depending on your church). For example, we are commanded all throughout the Bible to sing, and Paul clarifies that we can sing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. We’re also told to “sing a new song to the Lord.” So, clearly, we’re not limited to the Psalter or hymnal. Another example is communion. You can find churches that partake in communion weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even annually. Which is right? What does Paul mean by “often” in 1 Corinthians 11?

Another issue we’ve encountered over the years is what version of the Bible is used or recommended by a particular church. Some are “1611 King James Version only!” in spite of the fact we have discovered many more reliable source documents since 1611 that have allowed us to have even more accurate and reliable versions available to us today (sorry, rant over). Some use the New International Version, or as some call it, the “Nearly Inspired Version” because of some of the translation choices and omissions. Either way, there are people – and I have been one of them in the past – who judge a church and/or preacher based on what version of the Bible they use. The reality is though, that most Christians don’t even look at that. They buy a Bible based on how the cover matches with their shoes or whatever, not on which version it is. It’s been said the best version of the Bible is the one you read, and that’s mostly true. As far as the church setting, it matters more the preaching is faithful to the Bible in general than to the KJV, NIV, ESV or any other commonly accepted version for an Evangelical church. Obviously there are version created by specific cults, such as the New World Translation (Jehovah’s Witnesses) that should be an immediate red flag.

I think the point has been made that there are many factors to consider when choosing a church, some of which are more important than others. So, what are the most important factors?

The content of the sermon

Why do I phrase it that way? Why not “the preaching”? Because “the preaching” is typically understood as both the content and delivery. The simple fact is that not every preacher is Charles Spurgeon or John Piper. Some men have a gift for expositing the Word of God, others have a gift for public speaking, and a blessed few have both. Ideally you can find a church where the pastor is at least somewhat gifted in both. We have been to plenty of churches where the pastor was a solid, wonderful, learned man of God, but who was not as dynamic or confident in the pulpit as we would have liked. Conversely, we’ve witnessed more than enough preachers who could captivate and rile up a crowd, but said nothing worth listening to. We attended a church for the first time recently where the pastor read from a manuscript, looking at the congregation 10 percent of the time, versus our previous pastor who was able to preach from notes and looked at the congregation 90 percent of the time. Both preach biblically-sound sermons, but their delivery is different. Is one better than the other? It depends. Really. I personally prefer more eye contact and the connection and authenticity to which it lends, but I also really benefitted from the content of the manuscript sermon. What really matters is whether or not God’s word is faithfully preached. In other words, the content of the sermon.

Music Matters

There is one element when it comes to church that has proven to be one of the most divisive over the years – music. Music is powerful for many reasons. It’s scientifically proven music affects our emotions, and it has been a part of human life and worship since the beginning of time. I’ve even heard it said that since everything is made up of vibrating atoms that all of creation is literally a song, sung into existence by our triune God. It’s no wonder the Bible is full of songs from beginning to end, from the song Adam sang in the Garden of Eden about Eve as recorded in Genesis to the songs sung by the innumerable multitudes to the Lamb of God in heaven as recorded in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact, whole books of the Bible are songs. Music immensely important to God, and it should be to us as well.

Have you ever heard it said, “The music really doesn’t matter. What really matters is the preaching”? I have. In fact, I am guilty of saying it as if it were wholly true, and now want to repent of it. The fact is, music does matter … a lot. That statement, I have come to realize, is not only usually a righteous-sounding lie by the one proclaiming it, it’s an over and mis-used reactionary statement targeted at the people who attend churches solely for the music without any concern for the quality of the sermon content. While it’s true the content of a sermon, given that it is an exposition and application of God’s Word (or, at least it should be), ought to be given the most weight when considering what church to attend, I’ve come to realize a church service is a holistic experience. Just like it’s inadvisable to marry someone who may be outwardly very attractive but is a terrible person, it’s inadvisable to attend a church where only one of the two elements are satisfactory. The preaching may be great, but if you’re struggling to express yourself in song to your God because the music is a style you just can’t enjoy or get into, or because the song lyrics are shallow, repetitive and/or man-centered (more on that in a moment), you may need to keep looking. However, I must state unequivocally that the lyrics are ultimately more important than the style if you’re forced to choose one over the other.

There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of songs that can be sung in church (whether they should be is another thing!), so it’s fair to say that the values and even theology of a church is revealed by the few dozen or so songs they choose to allow into their repertoire. If words matter, and they do, then it matters even more what words we sing to and about the one, holy, high and exalted Lord of all Creation. The words matter because we are to worship Him “in Spirit and in truth” and we don’t want to lie to or about God. The words matter because, as Paul says in Colossians, we teach one another about God and the truth of the Bible through our corporate singing. Thus, it’s imperative we are accurate and biblical in our expressions and words. Some songs are outright problematic or just ridiculous (there’s actually a song registered with CCLI – the primary worship music licensing organization used by many churches – titled “Fire” which has for “lyrics” the word “fire” repeated about thirty times. That’s probably not one that’s going to top the charts anytime soon). However, some songs have subtler issues of bad theology or have a very strong focus on us instead of God. Good churches should be discerning about the songs they sing and be willing to reject what may be popular if necessary since we’re more likely to remember a song than the sermon.

Another important aspect of music is the quality and delivery of it. We are not only commanded to worship God through song, we’re told in multiple places to do it skillfully. In the Old Testament, not just any Schmo was allowed to play an instrument or sing in the temple. It was to be done in a way that was reverent, authentic and un-distracting by those equipped and called to do so. Nothing has changed for us today. In some cases, it might be better for a congregation to sing a cappella or use a recording if there are insufficient or insufficiently talented musicians. It’s important for a church to be that church and not try to emulate something out of reach in regard to talent or capabilities. Not every church can have a full band, lights, smoke and gifted, charismatic leaders (and in most cases, they are better for it!). Each church needs to find the point at which the line is crossed between doing the music well and un-distractingly to where it’s trying too hard to do or be something it cannot do or be.

Church is not a daycare

Another element to assess, though not as important as the previous two, is the children’s ministry. We have attended churches where the answer to “How’s your children’s ministry?” is “What’s that?” because the congregation was so small the preacher would be alone in the sanctuary if all the requisite help was directed toward childcare. We’ve also been to churches where screaming babies and restless toddlers (and restless husbands waiting to get home to check the score of the football game) were a regular occurrence, and the pastor carried on with the sermon as if there was no competition for our attention. We’ve been to other churches where the children’s ministry was robust, Gospel-saturated and well worth entrusting our children to. We’ve been to some churches where the “children’s ministry” was a glorified daycare service to keep those little distractions out of “big church.”

Regardless of whether or not there’s “children’s church” for kids over the age of seven or so, you should be able to discern quickly if children are valued and seen as a mission field to be taught the Gospel at every opportunity, or if children are viewed as one bumper sticker I recently saw (and hated) expressed: a “huge financial burden” who should be kept from distracting the flow of service and interfering with the comfort of adults at all costs. Personally, I think it’s good for kids over the age of seven or so to be in the main service with their parents learning how to listen and worship in the church context, not just watching Veggie Tales and making crafts that will get left on the van floor to clean up next week. At the end of the day (and this life), it the responsibility of parents to teach their children the Gospel and Word of God. If you can find a church that loves your kids by teaching them the Gospel and the Word of God, that’s a huge blessing that should only serve to augment and reinforce what you’re already doing at home. That being said, a massive children’s ministry should have considerably less weight in your decision process.

Connecting digitally

While also not an element with the weight of the sermon and song content or the authenticity of a church body, there’s certainly something to be said for a church’s digital presence, and their website in particular. Fifteen years ago we attended a church that had a pitiful website, to put it honestly, but where we attended for four years anyway and grew and were loved. However, in 2021, there’s really no excuse for a church that has even an inkling of a desire to draw new and younger people to not have a reasonable website. The cost and difficulty of creating and maintaining a professional-looking, up-to-date website has decreased significantly in the past decade, and just about anyone with even a little computer savvy can make something presentable.

We are yet again looking for a church as I write this and have viewed way more websites and read way more statements of beliefs than we’d like. Some websites are modern and easy to navigate, make it easy to find the two main things we look for with ease: the statement of beliefs, and the leadership composition. Other websites were stale, poorly designed and hard to get around. You can imagine which ones racked and stacked better on our list of “possibles.” On a side note, I’ve also found recommended reading/listening resources as a good gauge of a church’s theology. On another side note, and to all the churches out there that still do this, cheesy spinning gifs get my mouse pointer moving toward the “x” in the upper corner of my browser even faster than seeing “KJV Only.” Gifs have not been cool since the 90’s, and even then that’s debatable.

Wrapping it up

When it comes to choosing which church you will serve and thrive in there’s a lot to consider. The atmosphere matters. The existence (or lack thereof) of genuine love and “brotherly kindness” matters. The quality of the coffee … maybe. Ok, not really at all. The content of the sermon absolutely matters. Next to that, the music matters most and is a solid indicator of the theological depth and accuracy of the church leadership since they are ultimately responsible for what is preached as well as sung. Then, consider other elements – were you welcomed? Invited to lunch? Remembered the second week? Told about other Gospel-centered churches in the area (this is huge as it means they care more about you connecting in a good church so you can thrive, not just so you can add to their numbers and bottom line)?

Finding the right church is not easy, and I encourage anyone who’s looking right now, or who will do so in the future, to take heart and trust that God will lead you where you need to be. It may not be where you love every aspect of it. In fact, I think God intentionally makes it so there’s always something or someone who manifests the imperfection of each church so we’re reminded of the perfect “worship service” to come when, and only when, Christ returns and the sin that causes all the dissention and disagreements in the capitol “C” Church is done away with and we all see Jesus for who He is, and each other for who we are – redeemed sinners created to love and serve God and each other. Until then, find a church where you can serve, thrive and experience the love of God through the love of His people – even if there are crying babies and music you may not know. Finally, and most importantly, don’t compromise on the essentials. Sound, Biblical teaching is paramount, followed closely by prayer and the song content. Get those right, and everything else will either come together or come to matter less.

Sowing in vain?

By David A. Liapis

As a military family, we have had the opportunity to live in many places around the U.S. and even the world. When we move into a new house in yet another town this summer, we will have reached one dozen places we’ve called home in the last 17 years. While the adventures and relationships we’ve developed have been many and enjoyable, there are certainly drawbacks to this transient lifestyle. One of them is the simple fact we rarely get to watch things grow.

Everyone in my family loves things that grow, and every place we go we plant seeds and/or young plants and trees, hoping against hope to get to enjoy blossoms, fruit and lush greenery. However, we pack up and leave when the Air Force tells us to, and that’s inevitably before the raspberries yield, the trees take root or the veggies get big enough to eat. We go through the same ritual every time, and every time the result is the same – a feeling of disappointment that we have, yet again, sowed in vain. However futile as it may seem, I know when we arrive at our next home, we will sow seeds, plant flowers and hang on to optimism that we will see results.

Our Christian life – whether sharing the Gospel with others, trying to raise our children to know and love the Lord, or making a positive impact on the people we encounter – is very much the same as my family’s gardening life. We do the work of sowing seeds, often not knowing if or when any growth will take place. As much as we want every seed to be a bean plant that will sprout in a day in mere damp paper towel, we don’t have any idea what kind of seed we’re sowing or how long it will take to sprout. Sometimes there are immediate results, which is very satisfying to our impatience; but much of the time, even most of the time, we don’t see results for weeks, months, years, or ever.

The truth is, we need faith the goodness and sovereignty of God to fuel our efforts and hope. There’s a reason God chose to use the analogy of sowing seeds and so many other agricultural references in the Bible – because even the sowing and successful growing of physical seeds into useful and beautiful plants and trees is wholly dependent upon God. Spiritually, we are called to sow, and in some cases water, but God gives the growth (1 Cor 3:6) – and in his timing.

Just as our sowing and planting as a military family is not in vain because, one, we enjoy it, and two, those who have moved in after us have undoubtedly enjoyed the fruit of labor, our spiritual sowing, watering and waiting is not in vain even if we don’t see immediate or even Earthly results. We have to remember that it’s God who gives the growth. Paul the Apostle encourages us in Galatians 6:9-10, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially those who are of the household of faith.”

The deconstruction of my faith

By David A. Liapis

I grew up as a believer. My parents were believers as well, and there was never a time I can remember not being taught what an American Christian was supposed to know. It was in the books we read, the shows we watched and the songs we sung. Thirty years later I can still remember the Wee Sing! tunes and words.

I grew up believing, like so many others, in what I have come to realize is a lie. It was all a big lie, backed up by propaganda and conditioning to conform our minds and cause us to blindly and willingly go along with the plan. After all, so many people’s pocketbooks rely on generational acquiescence to the grand narrative.  

What was the catalyst? What snapped me out of the stupor I had been in for so long? It was actually while reading the Bible, especially the words of Jesus. There were things Jesus said that contradicted what I had embraced, and it took years to admit my worldview was at odds with Jesus. The more I was willing to question the very “truths” that motivated me as a young man, the more I began to understand that so many people who buy into the modern narrative, myself and my family included, do so ignorantly. However, there are certainly those who knew and know better who are out to make a buck at the expense of anyone gullible enough to buy into the system.

Some of the main points Jesus made while he walked the Earth were very counter-cultural and even paradoxical – the way to life is death; love your enemy; honor the emperor, even if he is wicked; that to “gain the world” means losing one’s soul; and that those who love and follow him are “not of this world,” but, rather, are citizens of a greater kingdom and subject to a higher calling from a higher king … the King of Kings. How did these truths taught by Jesus begin the deconstruction of my faith? Simple. The object of my faith was wrong.

I grew up having faith that the U.S. government, Capitalism and Christian morality – a.k.a. the American Dream – would lead to a life of prosperity, comfort and security. My faith was strong, and my commitment to doing my part as an evangelist of patriotism was demonstrated by the way I lived. I, like so many others, was looking to the institutions of men to be my functional savior in this life. The problem is that Jesus doesn’t just want to be our Savior for the life to come, he wants to be our Savior now. He wants us to look to him and his Word for the source of hope and purpose in this life even if (and especially when) the American Dream fails to come true. He wants to give us hope even when the government we have loved and served turns on us, when the economy causes all we possess to vanish, and when we realize the enslaving nature of hypocritical and false morality.

Yes, there is deconstruction of faith going on in my life, but it’s faith in things I should have never put my hope in in the first place. On the other hand, the faith I have in Jesus Christ as my Savior, in the Bible as his inerrant Word, and the sure hope of Jesus’ return is growing.

How to cancel according to the Bible

By David A. Liapis

Author’s note: This is the fourth article in the series, “How to be a Biblically ‘woke’ Christian”

“You’re canceled!” are words many people have heard over the past few years for committing various cultural and political sins. While some of the reasons for canceling are legitimate reasons someone should not be given or allowed to retain a platform or be taken seriously (such as racist ideology or sexually abusive language or actions), there are also many other instances of people being shunned and shamed for saying or doing things that, until recent years, have been considered normal, such as saying that sin (as defined by the Bible) is wrong, that science is real (as in, males are males and females are females, and are intended to mate and reproduce with the opposite gender), or that a person should be respected no matter what color of skin they have or gender they are (as in dismissing people’s opinions just because they have white skin and are male).

What’s most concerning about “cancel culture” though is not the hair-trigger of a society waiting to cancel anyone for anything. It’s the fact there’s no place for redemption. Culture’s mindset is “once canceled, always canceled.” This does two things. The first is that it creates fear in people’s minds – fear that one wrong comment/post/Tweet or hasty action will effectively end their relationships, jobs, and future. While we should all be careful what we say and do, the hyper-sensitivity and unforgiving nature of the cancel culture can be terrifying. The second thing cancel culture does is attempt to remove the message and example of redemption from our society and minds.

The theme of redemption is long-beloved by religious and non-religious people alike. All you have to do is watch a movie or read and book to find a redemption story of rags to riches, bad to good, lost to found, etc. Collectively, we love redemption, to the point it’s as if the desire for it were implanted in our very souls … because it is. Ever since the first man and woman lived and sinned in the Garden of Eden, the story of redemption has been both desired and played out in the history of mankind. Of course, this story reached its crescendo in the First Century when the God-man, Jesus Christ, was executed on a Roman cross, effectively bearing the just punishment for the sins of man that we should have to bear, and making a way for us to be redeemed. Paul the Apostle says this in Colossians 3:13-14, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (emphasis mine)

This story of redemption found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the only canceling we should really be concerning ourselves with, is attacked and obfuscated by our current cancel culture. As humans, we need to know that redemption is possible – in relation to both God and our fellow man. We need to know that second chances are available, and that as a society we can all relate to failing (because we all do it all the time) and can therefore extend understanding and forgiveness when necessary and appropriate. We need to all get Biblically woke and start telling people about how instead of people being canceled by culture, sin was canceled on the cross. 

Chosen to choose?

By David A. Liapis

Thoughts on Matthew 11:25-30

The Bible is full of tension, and one of the most difficult tensions to understand (or accept) is that of God’s sovereignty and our free will. God has created us to be thinking, willing beings who make choices – some small, like whether to drink tea or coffee today, and some huge, like whether to believe the Bible and the Gospel. We make choices based on numerous factors all the time such as weighing the benefits versus the risks of a situation, what others will think of the decisions we make, and the importance of what we’re choosing. We love the freedom to choose, to have a sense of control. Which is why the doctrine of election – that God chooses whom he will save – is so repulsive to so many of us.

Matthew 11:27-28 is a paradoxical passage that perfectly demonstrates the tension we see all over the Bible about our responsibility to choose and God’s complete control over who will be saved. Jesus begins by saying, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and not one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” This is pretty clearly exclusive. Jesus gets to decide – or elect – who can know God. This concept of “predestination” is reiterated all throughout the New Testament, particularly in passages like John 6, Romans 8 and Ephesians 1.

Now for the tension. Jesus immediately follows his statements about the sovereignty of God with, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” That’s a call to make a decision, to choose to come to Jesus. He does not say, “God will force all you weary people to come to me.” Rather, he presents it as a choice that we can make – to continue striving and toiling to find favor with God and man, or find rest for our souls by trusting and resting in a Savior who is gentle and approachable (even though he is the holy, almighty King of King and Lord of Lords in whom “all the fullness of God” dwells).

What do we do with then? The Bible is very, very clear about the sovereign election of God in salvation, yet there are so many “if” and “choose” statements. Can both be true? Jesus seemed to think so. Even if it doesn’t make sense, and even if you think you have it figured out and hold fast to predestination or free will, there is one other truth of Scripture to guide and constrain us – the law of love. Jesus made it clear everyone, including those with whom you disagree about this or any other doctrine, or ideology or political opinion, etc., are your neighbor; and, therefore, we are to love them as ourselves.

Regardless of what happens in the “background” of God’s providence and unchallengeable dominion over all his creation, the call for us is unchanged: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The point is not ultimately whether or not you chose God or he chose you. The point is are we living in obedience to Jesus right now, and every day until we either die or see him return in glory. In the meantime, Jesus offers us rest for our souls if we take his yoke upon us and learn from him. Will you choose to do that?

The more you know…

By David A. Liapis

Have you ever met someone who is fiercely loyal to their hometown, home state or country of origin? In many instances they wear the colors of their sports team(s), speak longingly of home, and will argue the superiority of their place of origin with anyone who contradicts them. It’s often comical to witness, and even more so when their intensity gives rise to a suppressed accent you didn’t notice before. Why is this so? What makes people think and respond this way? Simply put: Identity.

We all identify with places, experiences, personality traits and other elements that comprise who we are. For some people, such as the Jews of Jesus’ day, nationality/ethnicity is the end all, be all. The Jews were God’s chosen people, given the Law and Prophets, and were not unclean sinners like the Gentiles – or, in other words, everyone else who was not Jewish. Just like some people take pride in the fact a certain celebrity or famous person hailed from their hometown, it’s not far fetched to think there were some in Jesus’ time who were proud to be from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, or Capernaum, where Jesus lived later in life and where he performed many of his miracles and gave the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 12:20-24 record Jesus’ words that must have been shocking and infuriating to those listening. In this passage he had just confronted the people about the identity of John the Baptist and himself and the validity of their messages, so they were probably already getting a bit riled up. Then Jesus fully crossed the line and began to pronounce woe upon multiple cities of Judea – Chorazin and Bethsaida – stating that wicked Tyre and Sidon would not be judged as harshly. Why? Because Jesus performed miracles in the Jewish towns, and yet the people did not repent. Jesus did not stop there. He went on to condemn Capernaum, his own hometown, declaring their unbelief in all his “mighty works” done there made them more worthy of punishment than Sodom – the vilest, most immoral, wicked place any Jew could conceive of. To be called worse than Sodom could only be topped by one thing – to be called a son of Satan (a title which Jesus did in fact apply to some of the Jews at another time in John 8:44).

Some have said knowledge is power. In reality, knowledge is judgment. The more we know, the more accountable we are, especially as it relates to sin and the Gospel. Jesus implied that his mighty works were intended to increase the Jews’ knowledge about him – the Messiah – and lead to their repentance and faith in Him. In the same way, the knowledge of God and the Gospel conveyed though His word, the Bible, through the proclamation of the Gospel by preachers, missionaries, family members, etc., and even through seeing the glory and wisdom of God in creation (Romans 1:20), will result in either our repentance and faith, or our eventual and just condemnation.

“So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20) should be one of the most compelling and terrifying phrases in all of the Bible. It’s the conclusion of a verse that basically says the created world was designed to point people to the reality of God’s eternal power and divine nature – and that was written before telescopes, microscopes, DNA mapping and satellite images of the Earth, our Solar system and beyond. If the people of the ancient world are going to be held accountable to God for their knowledge of Him in creation and for the message of the Gospel proclaimed during and after Christ’s life on Earth, how much more are we going to be held accountable given two millennia of collective knowledge since then of science, archeology, the proclamation of the Gospel, the testimony of God’s people, and the repeated validation of God’s Word?

In conclusion, read and contemplate the words of Paul the Apostle from Romans 1:18 through 2:5 (ESV) and consider for yourself if his words are not an accurate description of what we see in the world today, and ask yourself the most important question: will your knowledge of God lead to judgment or salvation?

Romans 1

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 2

1Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Called to be a fool

By David A. Liapis

When it comes to Jesus Christ and the Word of God, there have always been skeptics and scoffers. Sadly, it’s not just the irreligious who are guilty of belittling and rejecting the God’s truth. There are plenty of religious people all too ready to point their finger at someone or some idea that doesn’t fit their definition of what a “Christian” should say, do or believe.

The Jews of Jesus’ day were no different. They had their idea of what the Messiah and “Elijah who is to come” would look like and do, and Jesus and John failed to conform to their expectations. In Matthew 11:17, Jesus compared that generation to demanding and discontented children with particular expectations. Jesus goes on in the following verses to compare the unbelieving Jews to these children, implying that since he, Jesus, and John the Baptist didn’t act or appear as the people expected, they and their messages were rejected. The people accused John of being possessed by a demon, rather than the Holy Spirit; and they accused Jesus of being a drunkard and glutton, and found fault with the company he kept. They refused to believe all the signs and miracles and the clear teachings of Jesus. They failed to understand the purpose of the Messiah: to save people from all nations – including and especially “tax collectors and sinners” – from their sins. Yet, as Jesus said, wisdom is justified by her deeds.

Paul the Apostle in his letter to the church at Corinth dealt with this topic, reminding the church that the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is folly to the world is in fact the wisdom of God. He said, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…” And, here’s the main point, “…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-30)

Jesus and John confounded the wisdom of the Jews. They were not who the people expected them to be, but were exactly who God made them to be. The encouragement and admonition for us is to follow their example even if it seems like folly to the skeptics and scoffers. Christians are called to be holy – to be set apart for God’s use. We should act differently, speak differently, think differently and see the world differently. There should be no question of whose we are and whose wisdom we seek. We are to be fools in the eyes of the world for Christ, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The pursuit of happiness

By David A. Liapis

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Every word our Founding Fathers chose to include in the Declaration of Independence was undoubtedly selected carefully and intentionally since they were staking not only the future of the United States, but their very lives upon them. The document enumerates their complaints against the King of England, what qualifies or disqualifies a nation’s ruler, the remedies for their grievances, and bold proclamations of trust in the designs and providence of God to champion their cause. The familiar quote above is probably the only one most people would recognize as having come from the Declaration; and while our citizens should take the time to read and understand the documents upon which our nation was founded, this sentence is the one to know if only one could be known. This sentence asserts and affirms significant truths – the first of which is that there is objective truth. “We hold these truths…” Which truths? Self-evident (knowable) truths that are not subject to change over time or because of circumstances or opinion. They are true regardless of whether or not people like them or agree with them.

We live in a time where people claim truth is subjective and can (and should) change. This progressive mindset says that what was true about people and governance in 1776 is no longer true today. Moreover, the most important truth alluded to in the Declaration, namely that there is a Creator God who is the source of truth and of our “unalienable Rights,” does not exist. If then God does not exist, then logically the rights granted by Him do not exist. However, let us assume (rightly) that God does in fact exist, and He has fact granted us unalienable rights.

Before looking into these rights, it should first be established who is entitled to them – all men. Why? Because all men, or people, are created equal. We are all made in the image and likeness of God and therefore have intrinsic value, worth and dignity. All people share the same inherent need for community, relationship, to love and to be loved, to have physical needs met, and to have purpose and meaning in life. Theologically speaking, all people are also marred by sin and need to be reconciled to God, their Creator, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ who was crucified on a Roman cross and then rose from the dead three days later, conquering sin and death. Without being reconciled to God, the “unalienable Rights” of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are ultimately impossible because apart from Christ we are doomed to die physically and remain dead spiritually, we are slaves to sin because of our inherited fallen nature, and true happiness can only be found in the deep, abiding joy of the Lord that exists in life and liberty as we all in spite of pain, suffering and evil.

It remains true that God created this world and all that’s in it and called it “good” and that “the sun rises on the just and the unjust,” and even though the only thing we are all truly and ultimately entitled to is eternal punishment for our rebellion against God, in His unmerited grace he allows us to live, in some cases (like ours), in relative freedom and to pursue what we determine will make us happy. These are the unalienable rights our Founding Fathers recognized and appealed to in the Declaration. Now to briefly examine those rights.

Life – to be allowed to live and thrive in a nation where all lives matter and are valued by all. Black lives. Brown lives. White lives. Old lives. Infirm lives. Unborn lives. Gay lives. Straight lives. Successful lives. Broken lives. All lives. We are commanded by Jesus Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves, and furthermore that all people are our “neighbors.” What does this mean for us? It means that we should champion the value and worth of all lives as we do for our own. We want to live, and we should seek for others to live as well so they have the opportunity to live in ways that honor our Creator. This must be caveated with this: to disagree with how someone chooses to live their life if it’s lived in ways that dishonor the Creator does not constitute hate or prejudice against someone. In fact, it would be unloving and unkind to not try to turn our neighbors from sinning against God.

Liberty – freedom for all, within the bounds of God’s laws and those of our government derived from them. We can all agree there are some things we are not at liberty to do: to murder, to steal, to rape, to harm, etc., so liberty cannot mean license to do whatever we want. Liberty in our case means exactly what our Founding Fathers established in the Constitution, such as the freedom of speech, assembly, religion, to protect one’s self and others (bear arms), to vote and to have fair trials. Liberty can only exist when it is defined objectively and protected from the whims of culture and attacks from without and from within.

The pursuit of happiness – not guaranteed happiness, but the pursuit thereof. This means sometimes (or much of the time) we will not have that which we deem will bring us happiness. We will not all be rich, healthy or successful. We will not all have the same level of education. We will not all have health coverage. We will not all be employed and well-paid. We will not all live in nice homes and drive new vehicles. However, America was designed to be a place where those things can be pursued, and possibly obtained, through hard work, dedication and with the appropriate level of government oversight of commerce, economics, infrastructure and security. What this does not mean is that the government owes it to every citizen to offer “free” healthcare, “free” college or other “free” things so everyone can achieve a commensurate level of happiness, but rather to establish and protect a society where these good things are attainable.

The sad reality is happiness is subjective, elusive and fleeting, so in the continued pursuit thereof, we are all too ready to sacrifice life and liberty. We have become a society willing to trade the lives of the unborn for sex without consequence and responsibility; freedom from government overreach for “free” services and amenities; building and being people of character and integrity for expedience and convenience; and the ability to protect ourselves from a “…Government [that] becomes destructive of these ends [our unalienable rights]…” for a false sense of security.

How does a government become destructive to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? When We the People, whether by electing (and reelecting) or simply through apathy and inaction, allow politicians who are corrupt, immoral (lack of character), and/or who put partisanship over the good of the nation to continue to represent us. We the People need to be informed, engaged and encourage civil discourse now more than ever. This quote from President Ronald Reagan is a fitting call to action and reminder of the role we play in the preservation of our unalienable rights:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Divided Church, Divided Nation

By David A. Liapis

Our nation is more divided than ever with schisms and factions tearing us apart. As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:18 and 14:19, James 3:18) and reconcilers (2 Corinthians 5:18), and so the imperative for us is to pursue and cultivate peace and harmony both within the Church and in our culture. Therefore, it is right and necessary for us to engage our divided nation with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – a message of reconciliation, peace, hope and love.

Yet, how can Christians presume to help our polarized and divided nation unify if we can’t even figure out how to unify around Jesus Christ and his word?

According to multiple sources, there are well over 200 denominations of “Christian” churches in the U.S. Shockingly that number would swell to more than 35,000 if all the individual “nondenominational” churches were counted separately. That’s more than 35,000 “bodies of Christ” who have intentionally set themselves apart from one another because of differences in theology, church government, demographics or various other “hills to die on.” That’s in excess of 35,000 distinct groups all claiming to know and represent one person – Jesus Christ. Imagine if there were 35,000 different U.S. ambassadors to France all trying to represent their President and nation. It would be chaotic and ineffective at best, with the only clear message sent being that division and disunity ruled where in fact unity should be present.

There are only a few times Jesus’ prayers are recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with the most extensive one appearing in John 17. What’s even more significant about his prayer recorded in that chapter is that he prays for “all who will believe in him through [the Disciples’] word.” That means if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, he prayed directly for you. What did he pray? That we would “be one” as the Father and Son are one. Unity. Why did Jesus pray specifically for our unity? Here’s what Jesus said in verses 20-23:

I do not ask for [the Disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (emphases mine)

Twice in three verses Jesus states that the reason he desires our unity is so the lost, broken, unsaved people in our world would believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord! This is so important and so convicting. Many Christians have undoubtedly looked at everything going on and thought, “The real and only solution to all this division, fear, anger and chaos is the heart and life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.” They are not wrong. However, are we unified as the body of Christ so that the unsaved look at us and see and desire what we have? Are we demonstrating such oneness in our mission and ministry so as to show the watching world something other than the division, anger and fighting that defines our current culture?

As is almost always the case, the problem is not “out there.” Christians recognize that what people say, do and think is directly tied to the condition of their hearts and that true positive change must occur in the heart before is can take place in the culture. What many of us Christians fail to recognize and/or admit is that there’s a lot of heart change that needs to take place within us to bring about repentance, reconciliation, restoration and revival within the Church so we can effectively extend those things to the culture.

There are two things we must actively pursue in order for this to be realized – peace and purity within the Church.

The peace we must pursue is not the kind that appeases people or avoids hard truths and conflict. It’s not the peace that comes from being soft on sin so as not to offend people. It’s also not the kind of false peace that comes from ignoring evil or being apathetic toward bad circumstances. Rather, it’s the kind of peace that “surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7) for the very fact it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit and is therefore supernatural. It’s the kind of peace that transcends all circumstances and can be extended to our worst enemies because our hope and purpose is the Kingdom of God and not of this world.

The purity we must pursue is related to not seeking false peace by tolerating or downplaying sin. A major part of the problem with the testimony of the hundreds (or even thousands) of church denominations in the U.S. is that many are accepting or even affirming of sin. Our divisions are not always over doctrines or how to partake of Communion or how/when to baptize. Sometimes our division is over something valid – disobedience to the very Word of God. In those cases, purification, not false peace, is most important. Jesus’ prayer for unity does not give us license to pursue peace over obeying the clear teachings of Scripture (even when they are countercultural).

For anyone reading this who does not yet consider themselves a Christian, know that Christ has made a way through his death on the cross and his resurrection three days later for you to be reconciled with God and, therefore, at true peace with God and people. Also know that just as the unsaved are called to repentance and obedience to God, so are Christians. It’s an ongoing process. For anyone reading this who claims the name of Christ, let us humbly repent of our disunity and toleration of sin and join our Lord in his prayer for our unity and effectiveness in evangelism, peacemaking and, ultimately, glorifying God with our lives individually and collectively as his Church.

The Greatest Commandment – to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – precedes the second half of loving our neighbor as our self. What the people of our nation need now is not for Christians to scold them or offer solutions they themselves don’t appear to have embraced. What our nation needs is collective repentance and seeking reconciliation and peace with God so that we are then able to be reconciled and at peace with our neighbors.